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Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship in USSR

By Editorial Staff
Published September 1, 1990

“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40).

It was twelve years ago that Alexander Solzhenitsyn stunned the distinguished audience assembled for Harvard’s 327th commencement.

Sounding more like an Old Testament prophet than a Nobel Laureate, Solzhenitsyn charged intellectuals and the media with abandoning the West’s Christian heritage and embracing instead a destructive humanism.

While the human spirit had been strengthened in the West through suffering, said Solzhenitsyn, the affluent and comfortable West had become spiritually exhausted. It had lost its courage and moral resolve.

Many dismissed the Russian writer’s speech as an extremist’s rantings. The suggestion of spirituality in the East seemed unlikely at best; Communist tyrants held the church in an iron grip. And in the West an unprecedented born-again movement anticipated a widespread return to traditional moral values.

But by 1990 Solzhenitsyn’s startling words had proved prophetic. A spiritual movement born in the open-air masses of Krakow, the Lutheran churches of East Germany, and the sanctuaries of brave Romanian pastors had spilled onto the streets, toppling Communist tyrants. All the while the West, its born-again enthusiasm spent, drifted far from its moral moorings.

A few months ago I traveled to Solzhenitsyn’s native land. There I saw firsthand the new spiritual openness in the East the Russian writer had foretold.

I went to Russia to visit Soviet prisons, and in Moscow found myself at a negotiating table across from Vadim Viktorovich Bakatin, minister of internal affairs and fourth-ranking official in the Communist government.

Mr. Bakatin is an impressive man with alert, penetrating eyes and a hearty manner. He welcomed our delegation and opened the meeting by explaining , with disarming candor, the crime problem in the Soviet Union.

Crime shot up 38 percent in 1989, he said. The reasons were varied: economic, political and ethnic unrest. But the Soviets were determined to improve their prison system and deal with their crime crisis.

He had been candid; I returned the favor. I told him that crime is not caused by economic or political or ethnic factors. It is caused by sin – by the fundamental evil in the human heart.

In a system that rejects God, there can be no transcendent values or authority to which people are accountable – so one can only reasonably expect unfettered human behavior. And that means crime. “As your own writer Fyodor Dostoyevski put it in The Brothers Karamazov,” I said, “when there is no God, everything is permitted. Crime becomes inevitable.”

Then I described Prison Fellowship’s ministry: how Christian volunteers visit prisons, sharing the news that Jesus can change an offender’s heart and give him a new perspective for living. Bakatin listened intently, “That’s what we need,” he said.

Encouraged, I laid my hopes on the table. This is what I would suggest,” I said. “One, that religious services be allowed. Two, that community involvement be encouraged. Three, that aftercare be developed, using community groups like Prison Fellowship. And four, that restitution and help for victims be made part of your criminal justice process.”

Mr. Bakatin smiled broadly, “Mr. Colson,” he said, “we will welcome Prison Fellowship and groups like you in our prisons. We need your kind of help.” He paused, then with a twinkle in his eye concluded, “And God be with you.”

Surprised and delighted as I was by this outcome, I’m not so naive as to suppose that Soviet officials have all been born again. But what is obvious is that they recognize the failure of the Communist’s system to provide any moral undergirding for their society.

This is the great irony of our age. While formerly “godless Communists” are affirming the fact that society cannot survive without a vital religious influence, religion continues to be shoved out of the public square in what many used to call Christian America.

- Chuck Colson

The God of Stones and Spiders

The God of Stones and Spiders, a recently released book by Chuck Colson, tells of the anti-Christian bias inherent in America’s society of the 1990s. A compilation of essays taken from regular columns written for Jubilee, the newsletter of Prison Fellowship, Colson’s intent is to alert the West to the forces of a hostile culture and call us to renew our spiritual strength.

The obscure title, The God of Stones and Spiders, comes from the story of Nien Ching, a Chinese woman who spent seven years in prison during China’s Cultural Revolution. Watching a spider weave an intricate web from a window of her prison cell, Nien Ching asked herself, “Who had taught the spider to make a web? Could it have really acquired the skill through evolution, or did God create the spider and endow it with the ability to make a web so that it could catch food and perpetuate the species?” This experience helped the woman to see that God, not Mao, was in control.

It is the power and sovereignty of God, rather than human wisdom, that enables us to overcome in our struggles. A god limited to human campaigns and crusades is too small. Like the Pharisees, who told Jesus to keep his disciples quiet, our human effort is an offense to the true God, awesome in power and might, who can only reply: “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

Colson has hit on many of the most important issues that face us and offers biblically based answers to the problems that threaten to destroy our society. Dealing with the issues of government and public policy, culture, the church, prisons and criminal justice, Colson offers challenge, insight and prophetic words for America.


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